Do Not Believe Every Spirit: Discerning the Ethics of Prophetic Agency in Early Christian Culture


I. Introduction

Prophetic agency in early Christian culture included visions (seeing into the spirit world) and enthusiasm (speaking in ecstasy while possessed by a spirit), both of which were beset by demonic interference.  Over time enthusiastic prophetic agency becomes controversial in late second-century debates concerning succession of “true” prophetic behavior as it pertains to “ecstasy.”  In the first and second centuries, authentic revelation included visions and enthusiasm (NT, Didache, Shepherd of Hermas).  In the third century, enthusiasm is viewed as solely demonic (Origen).  By the fourth century, speaking in ecstasy is described as a psychosis without precedence in biblical or Christian prophecy (Eusebius) in contrast to the mental clarity of perceiving visions that represented the only authentic form of biblical and NT prophecy (Epiphanius).  This paper attempts to explain why the ethics of prophetic agency went the way that it did.

Historically, early Christian prophecy was believed to function in a manner not unlike pagan oracles.[1]  Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Hippolytus, and Clement of Alexandria describe biblical and Christian prophets with a trope used also for pagan oracularism.[2]  The trope describes automatic speech—a “modern term used to explain cases of possession reported from ancient times”[3]—by comparing a prophet to a musical instrument (lyre or flute) that is played by a musician with a plectrum or the mouth in analogy to a spirit speaks through a passive human agent.[4]  The prophet’s rational faculties are suspended, rendering him unconscious and unaware that a spirit is speaking through him, a mental state for which the term “ecstasy” was sometimes used.[5] 

In the fourth century, the trope becomes a context for debate about the nature of true inspiration.  The heresiologist Epiphanius of Salamis argued that it illustrates a form of ecstasy that has no precedence in Christian or biblical prophecy; authentic prophetic ecstasy was only of the visionary type.[6]  Two centuries earlier, the use of the trope established precedence for automatist prophetic ecstasy in Christian and biblical prophecy because “enthusiastic prophecy [automatism] within the Church has not yet come under attack.”[7]  Once automatism was denied an authentically biblical pedigree, the trope becomes rhetoric for unsound prophecy.[8]                

The point of this paper is to theorize why enthusiastic prophetic agency went from common practice to controversy in Christian cultures.  The rest of this introductory section will provide the necessary background material for such theorization.  Section II will be an analysis of automatisms in early Christian texts—1 Corinthians 12, 14, Didache 11, and the Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 11—and section III will be an analysis of their dispute and decline in Montanist texts.  I will argue that the underlying reality requiring Christians to discern automatism was the very thing that eventually led to its end: the reality that evil spirits imitated good ones.[9]

Background Material for Automatism’s Track from Authentic to False Prophecy           

The earliest Christians received revelations from invisible spirits whose speech and behavior was made perceptible through the agency of a prophet.[10]  The phrase “discerning spirits” appears initially in a first-century Christian text, 1 Cor 12:10, in the context of managing prophetic phenomena within a congregation.  A similar phrase “test the spirits” appears in a warning about false prophets in 1 John 4:1.

In early Christian prophecy moral distinctions between spirits of error and spirits of truth guaranteed successful discrimination in principle, but this was difficult to maintain in practice because early Christians warned that evil spirits impersonate good ones in prophecy.[11]  A false prophet does not arrive recognizably false, the biblical metaphor for which occurs in warnings against “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” (Matt 7:15). Christians were warned about hastily believing a spirit (1 John 4:1); the spirit world was an ambiguous place—“Satan masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 14:11)—and such ambiguities would necessarily be a part of any careful adjudication of spirit activity.[12]  Christians were told what to expect a holy spirit to say (1 Cor 12:3, 1 John 4:2, 1 Pt 1:12) and what to expect a demon to say (1 Tim 4:1-3), but there is no clarity on how to unmask a deceitful spirit; what if a false spirit speaks highly of Jesus or behaves like a good spirit?[13]  Jannes Reiling summarized this problem as follows: “Even the false prophets of Matthew 7:15-23 performed miracles.  The power was there, but not the Spirit.  Here we are face to face with the deepest problem of prophecy in the Christian church.  Even the test by the demonstration of Spirit and power is inadequate, since it fails to reveal the true nature and origin of the spirit that is at work.”[14]

During the late first- and early second-century, discerning automatism as “true” and “false” occupies Christians in the Didache and the Shepherd of HermasDidache 11 warns that not every prophet who speaks “by means of a spirit” can be trusted.  The Shepherd of Hermas is equally aware of this and contains the first clear question in early Christian literature about discerning prophecy: “How will a person know which of them is a prophet and which is a false prophet?”[15] The Shepherd answers this question by distinguishing a spirit from God and a spirit from the Devil as it speaks and behaves through a prophet with the caveat that spirits from the Devil may speak some true words and thereby appear to be from God.  Nothing in this Mandate (or in the Didache) suggests that automatism itself (or any type of ecstasy) is to be discerned as a sign of false prophecy.

Sometime during the late second century, the value of automatism as a Christian practice becomes disputed when chaos over discerning prophecy brakes out in debates about a certain prophet, Montanus, a Christian convert from Cybele in Phrygia who, along with two prophetesses, Priscilla and Maximilla, developed a reputation for automatic speech (speaking in ecstasy) and adopted the title “the New Prophets” for their movement.[16]  As an emerging Christian movement, Montanism (so named after Montanus) arose ca. mid-second century near Asia where Christian prophecy was primarily Johannine.[17]  Montanist prophecy had much in common with Johannine prophetic phenomena, particularly spirits’ utterances through prophets (1 John 4:1-6) and visions “in the spirit” (Revelation 1:10, 4:2, 17:3, and 21:10).[18]  Hence the “new prophets” were merely a “new generation” of NT prophecy.  But others did not see it that way.  The title “New Prophets” suggested to some that Montanus’s ecstasy was a novel departure from apostolic practice made even more evident by the terms used for Montanist automatism that stem from pagan oracularism, namely enthousian, katochē, ekstasis, and mania.[19]  The title “New Prophets” created conflict between formative Catholics and Montanists.  Catholics, ca. 200 onward, feared that Montanist prophecy, i.e., extra-biblical “revelatory novelties,” challenged apostolic doctrine found in “authorized books,”[20] but Montanists read those selfsame apostolic books, namely John 16:13, to mean that revelation was progressive and “continued beyond the post-apostolic era.”[21]

The debate concerning Montanism was largely a matter of establishing a lineage with the past for ecstasy:  In what capacity and to what extent did ecstasy belong to the NT prophets?  Is Montanist ecstasy the same as or different from NT prophecy?  These questions mattered because during the mid-second century legitimizing new Christian movements was determined by their historical and doctrinal link to the apostles.[22]  Authenticating Christian prophecy by establishing its continuity with the past “appears first in Christian writings with the New Prophets,”[23] which suggests that the Montanists must have touched a nerve.  Montanists claimed that their prophetic activity was a renewal of the earliest Christians;[24] thus, the “New Prophecy” meant a progressive outpouring of prophecy, the likes of which are alluded to in John 16:12-15.[25]  Opponents heaped a precis of charges against Montanus that explained why he and his ecstasy failed to show succession with the apostolic era.[26]  Of all these charges, and despite Montanus’s former associations with Cybele, he is never accused of bringing pagan elements into Christianity.[27]      

The arguments for the ethical evaluation of Montanist prophecy “came to rest on the definition of ‘ecstasy,’”[28] a psychologically loaded term.[29]  By the late second century and onward, opponents of Montanism made their case against the new prophets according to the effects of ecstasy.[30]  In Eusebius’s source, ecstasy that brings forth automatism is “a type of ‘ecstasy’ which orthodox Christian opinion promptly defined out of court”[31] because of its disruption of the mental faculties.  Christians were familiar with demonic possession from the Gospels and Acts, and such activity was easily perceptible to them in the performance of automatism.  Besides ecstasy, Montanus’s lifestyle and doctrines—e.g., annulments of marriage and rigorous fasts, two “demonic doctrines” in 1 Tim 4:1-2—made him even more susceptible to charges of demonic possession in light of his “questionable” behavior and teachings.[32]  But not all prophetic ecstasies disrupted the mental faculties.  In Epiphanius’s source, prophecy is discerned on the basis of how different types of ecstasy affected the mental faculties of the prophet.[33]  Ecstasy that brings forth visions, as in the NT ekstasis of Peter and Paul, does not disrupt the mental faculties, and God is present.[34]  Ecstasy that suspends the mental faculties—displacing human agency with another agent—leads to involuntary psychosis without recall (amnesia), symptomatic of oracular possession that does not come from God.[35]  Epiphanius is our clearest source for discerning prophecy on the basis of discerning the ethics (as he sees it) of the two forms of prophetic agency, vision and enthusiasm, as to the effect of their ecstasy on the mind.  Montanists, however, embraced both types of ecstasy as legitimate technologies for communicating the divine will.[36]  In sum, anti-Montanists discerned prophetic ecstasies and condemned automatism; Montanists discerned spirits and adjudicated automatisms.      

 For a time, Montanus and his prophetesses had the support of the formative Catholic church.  Apollinarius, bishop of Hierapolis, who composed a treatise against the Montanists,[37] convened a synod, ca. 177, which condemned Montanism, a decision sent to Eleutherus, the bishop of Rome (174-189).  Eleutherus rejected Apollinarius’s verdict, and both he and his successor Victor I (189-199) approved the prophetic gifts of the Montanists and recommended that they be “accepted into the Eucharistic fellowship of the Catholic Church.”[38]  Under the influence of Praxeas, a Monarchian from Asia Minor and a man whom Tertullian charged with destroying the gifts of God,[39] Victor I, however, changed his mind and rejected the Montanists.[40]  Montanism was officially condemned in Rome under Victor’s successor, Zephyrinus (199-217), and in Antioch and Asia under Bishop Serapion (190-211).[41]  The condemnation of Montanism was not uniform, however, as it flourished in Carthage during much of the third century, and ca. 207 Tertullian became its champion.[42]  Tertullian lashed out at those bishops whose own claims to apostolic succession could no more be demonstrated than the case they made for Montanists’s lack of prophetic succession.[43]   

This ends the necessary background material for theorizing why automatism, once common among Christians, was later condemned by the church.  The material shows, in diachronic fashion, that anti-Montanists presumed automatism was pseudo-prophecy but earlier Christians would not have conceded to such a view.  Past scholarly treatments explain the condemnation of automatism (as it related to Montanism) for various reasons: Speaking in ecstasy was considered not authentically Christian, Montanism as a rural movement conflicted with the church’s urban base, and the emergence of an institutional Catholic hierarchy could not withstand capricious prophetic utterances.[44]  This article adds to the discussion with the following claim: Critics who argued that Montanist ecstasy had no precedence in early Christian cultures were unaware that, at one time, speaking in ecstasy functioned as Christian prophecy.  The discernment of automatism as either true or false would have been lost on those critics (for lack of experience with prophecy) who saw only demons and negative psychology in it.

Scholars have likewise speculated that inexperience with prophecy contributed to negative assessments of Montanism.[45]  Such inexperience can be explained by the decline of automatism: “With the turn of the [first] century ecclesiastical structures and offices began to gain more permanent forms, while prophetic enthusiasm slackened.”[46]  Evidence for ignorance of the function of prophecy is found in anti-Montanist statements that misconstrue the “I” first-person form of Montanist automatisms as Montanus himself.[47]  Judgments about prophecy were made by those not used to discerning automatisms as true or false.  For instance, in their slander against Montanism, Gregory of Nazianzus and Didymus the Blind misrepresent Montanist possession by identifying it with the ritual possession of Bacchism and Maenadism.[48] 

Automatism was once a hallmark of early Christian prophecy[49] only later to become a sign of false ecstasy by means of a taxonomy that favored vision ecstasy over possession ecstasy.  Taxonomizing ecstasies as a way to determine true and false prophecy was a discussion most likely unheard of in the first and early-to-mid-second centuries.  Prior to Montanism, the word ekstasis was not included in expressions for Christian prophecy, namely lalōn en pneumati, echein pneuma, plēroō pneuma, and pneumatophorōn, terms that bear no clear reference to psychology, only to the presence of a spirit (pneuma).  After the rise of Montanism, the term “ecstasy” becomes prominent in Christian dialogue that sought to define true prophecy as mentally sound in contrast to an ecstasy that suspended the mental faculties, thereby controlling the definition of ecstasy as a means to invalidate Montanism.[50]  I conjecture that Montanus’s (disputed) excommunication cast a long shadow over subsequent attitudes about automatism, especially among those with only second-hand knowledge of it.[51]  For instance, Christian apologists subsequent to Montanus’s excommunication, such as Origen (185-253), wrote that automatism was the exclusive domain of evil spirits that suppress the mental faculties like “those who are popularly called ‘possessed’”[52]  The presence of good spirits is discerned whenever the person affected by them “suffers no mental disturbance or aberration whatsoever as a result of the immediate inspiration. . . Such for example were the prophets and the apostles, who attended upon the divine oracles without any mental disturbance.”[53]  Although not directed at Montanism, Origen’s account of the Pythia is identical to polemics against Montanist ecstasy: “It is not the part of a divine spirit to drive the prophetess into such a state of ecstasy and madness that she loses control of herself.”[54]  Robin Lane Fox noted that for Origen “true prophets . . . were proven by their moral conduct, not their ‘possession,’”[55] because true prophets were never “possessed” by a spirit.  Didache 11 and Hermas, Mandate 11 however differ, for in those documents true prophets are proven both by their moral life and by their spirit possession (see below).

The controversy concerning Montanism centered on conflicting interpretations of spirit possession: 1) spirit possession produced demonic automatisms (the anti-Montanist position); and 2) spirit possession produced either holy or demonic automatisms (the Montanist position).  Each position yielded a different kind of discernment, yet in both cases a demonic spirit was believed to be mistaken for a good spirit.[56]  For anti-Montanists this meant that deceptive spirits impersonate good spirits on the analogy of exorcism in which demons who sound heavenly—thereby giving the false impression that automatisms originate in the divine—are simply stating the truth in claiming Jesus is Lord.[57]  Discerning automatisms was a matter of diagnosing demonic possession.[58]  For Montanists, the demonic ruse was not about convincing Christians that automatism, although false, was true prophecy, but rather to convince percipients in the habit of hearing holy-spirit automatisms that the spirit speaking at this moment is a holy spirit.

Historically, the spirit producing automatic speech was a demon, a deceased human being, or a good spirit.[59]  Discerning a spirit was highly subjective.[60]  Ancient and Christian authors described holy and divine spirits manifesting intelligible speech through a prophet “in an ecstasy” with the prophet’s subsequent amnesia of the event.[61]  Montanist automatisms were no different: cognitively intelligible speech uttered by a spirit through a prophet whose cognitive faculties are otherwise suspended.[62]  This condition was once called mania to indicate a change in mood that occurred either in divine inspiration or mental illness.[63]  The question arises: If divine prophecy in the past had been a matter of possession and speaking in ecstasy whose effects included amnesia, why was it later considered untenable for Christian prophecy?  Whereas Athenagoras could describe true prophecy as lalōn en ekstasis in his A Plea for Christians 9 without any repercussions, the rise of Montanism created an opposition that sought to condemn Montanus by manipulating the definition of ecstasy “in such a way as to preclude mania [and speaking in ecstasy] from the purview of Christian prophecy.”[64]  The reason for this seems to be in the way that the mental effects of prophetic automatism appeared identical to negative psychology.[65]  Critics of Montanus underscored this point by describing his “far-out ecstasy” (parekstasis) as an “involuntary psychosis” (akouoion manian), calling him a “madman” (aphrainonta) and “an ecstatic in transport” (en ekstasei ginomenon ekstatikon anthrōpon) who is unconscious when he speaks, i.e., he “does not know what he is saying” (agnoei gar ha phtheggetai).[66]  The paradox of rational speech uttered in an irrational state of mind must have been perplexing to those unfamiliar with automatism,[67] creating confusion for Christian apologists who were unable to relate it to the manifestation of holy spirits (i.e., holy spirits in abnormal psychology), which is what seems to have driven Epiphanius to condemn possession ecstasy.[68]  The ecstatic state of an automatist that rendered him or her temporarily unconscious became suspicious to some, even dangerous, and was no longer trusted as orthodox for true Christian prophets.[69]  The characterization of Montanist ecstatic automatisms as “mad” (ekphronōs), “improper” (akairōs), “strange” (allotriotropōs), “demonic” (daimonōnti), and “erroneous” (planēs pneumati) may suggest then that, by that time, holy-spirit automatism among many Christians had all but disappeared leaving only presumptions of demonic/pagan (mantic) automatism in its wake.[70]       

In sum, I see two factors that contributed to the church’s rejection of prophetic automatisms: 1) critics’ inexperience with (or ignorance of) discerning automatisms as true or false; and 2) the conviction that Montanism’s failure to demonstrate succession with NT prophets somehow meant that automatism lacked precedence in early Christian prophecy.  These two positions emerged because of a decline in personal experiences with discerning holy spirits in automatisms and an increasing discomfort with (and misunderstanding of) automatism’s ecstasy by a growing organization of the formative Catholic church.              

II. Speech Automatisms in the NT

In the NT, good spirits and bad spirits are depicted as sentient beings capable of expressing cognition through the agency of a human host.  Acts 19:13 records “Jewish exorcists” (’Ioudaiōn exorkistōn) who confront an evil spirit in a man that speaks to the exorcists: “the evil spirit answered” (apokrithen de to pneuma to ponēron).  The spirit “in” (en) the man exhibits personal cognition and the ability to ask questions of its human interlocutors: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” (v. 15).  Likewise, in Acts 16:16-18 Paul becomes annoyed by a spirit speaking to him through the agency of a slave girl.  This spirit recognizes Paul and his traveling coterie as “servants of the Most High God” (v. 17).  Paul “turned and said to the spirit” (epistrepsas tō pneumati eipen).  Evil spirits also identified Jesus as “the Holy One of God” or “Son of God” through their human hosts (Matt 8:29, Mark 1:24, 5:7).  These spirits are characterized with agency and cognition.

The manifestation of the utterances of good spirits through human intermediaries occurs whenever intercession is made to God in early Christian circles.[71]  First Corinthians 12 and 14 are examples of this: “since you strive eagerly for spirits, seek to have an abundance of them for building up the church” (1 Cor 14:12, NAB).[72]  These spirits are known by their speech through human intermediaries who speak en pneumati (1 Cor 12:3 and 1 Cor 14:2,15,16).  Examples of en pneumati that depict spirits speaking through a human agent are found elsewhere in the NT, namely Mark 1:23 and 5:2, anthrōpos en pneumati akathartō, “a man with an unclean spirit.”[73]  An exegesis of the preposition en in Mark 1:23 and 5:2 to mean “with” explains the preposition as meaning that a spirit controls the person: the person moves and speaks en, “with,” i.e., “by means of” a spirit.[74]  The prepositional phrase en pneumati in 1 Cor 12:3 is analogous in meaning to Mark 1:23 and 5:2, for in all three texts someone speaks en pneumati, “with a spirit.”  We might render the prepositional phrases in 1 Cor 12:3 as “nobody who is speaking with a spirit of God says” (oudeis en pneumati theou lalōn legei) and “nobody is able to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except with a holy spirit” (oudeis dunatai eipein Kurios Iēsous ei mē en pneumati hagiō).  An expanded translation of 1 Cor 12:3 shows that spirits identified Jesus as Lord: “For this reason, I want you to know that no spirit of God speaking through someone can say ‘Jesus is accursed,’ and only a holy spirit speaking through someone can say ‘Jesus is Lord.’”

Paul writes of himself in 1 Cor 14:15 as an automatist, as one praying en pneumati.[75]  This is a favorite verse of scholars who love to claim that prophecy in Paul was not ecstatic, i.e., not “without the mind present.”  The proof for this interpretation is believed to be in the phrase tō noi, “with the mind,” where Paul says that he will not only “pray en pneumati” but also “pray [en] tō noi.”  For some, Paul is saying that he is in full possession of his mental faculties while praying en pneumati.[76]  But, as we have seen above, a speech act performed en pneumati can suggest automatism. The phrase tō noi does not represent the mental state of Paul so much as it refers to the intelligibility of the prayer itself.[77]  Paul is saying that whenever he prays “with a spirit” the prayer uttered by a spirit should be intelligible to those present, hence what comes next in vv. 16-19 that show Paul’s insistence on the occurrence of intelligible automatisms—over against unintelligible automatisms that he calls glossolalia uttered en pneumati—in the Christian ekklēsia

Paul’s recommendation to seek “a number of spirits” (1 Cor 14:12) reflects his culture’s and era’s pre-theological “many-holy spirits” awareness.  His explicit reference to “the one and the same spirit” (to hen kai to auto pneuma, 1 Cor 12:11, 13) is a part of this pre-theological worldview in which hen pneuma means many pneumata.[78]  This awareness shows up in 1 John 4:1-6 where “the spirit of God” is any spirit making “confessions” through prophets.  Any spirit (pan pneuma) who does not confess (ho mē homolegei) that Jesus has come in the flesh is not from God.  The confession is in the form of automatic speech, for the initial warning against “believing every spirit” (v. 1) is made with the caveat about “false prophets” (pseudoprophētai).  The warning against false prophets is a warning against the means by which any spirit will not make such a confession.  Despite such warnings, the cunning that contrary spirits were believed to have suggests that even an impious spirit may proclaim something about Jesus and dupe its percipients.[79]

So why were Christians, wary of deceptive spirits, encouraged to communicate with spirits?  Spirits represented a source of truth and knowledge unattainable in human beings.  Paul makes this point in 1 Cor 2:13: “This is what we speak, not in words taught to us by human wisdom but in words taught by a spirit” (all’ en didaktois pneumatos).  Paul’s insight is echoed in Jesus’ promise to send “the spirit of truth” that “guides into all truth” (John 16:12-14) and in the Johannine epistles where “spirits from God,” identified collectively as “the spirit of truth,” communicate truths about Jesus (1 John 4:1-6).  With the possibility for both human error and deceptive-spirit intrusion into Christian teaching, e.g., 2 Pet 3:15-16 and 1 Tim 4:1, “spirits of truth” would see to it that “truth” was preserved.  Stevan Davies explains: “In theory, what is said by the spirit is drawn from what is known by the spirit and not from what is known by the possessed individual.  Accordingly, the idea of spirit speech entails the idea of spirit knowledge and it follows that the spirit is not simply a source of verbal formulations but a source of information.”[80]  The identity of a truth-bearing spirit depended on the spirit’s utterances as it pertained to Christ’s identity (John 16:13, 14, 1 Cor 12:3, 1 John 4:2) and the gospel message (1 Pt 1:12).  These identity markers were meant to safeguard against unacceptable spirits and false doctrine.  Since good and bad spirits were close at hand, those seeking good spirits with whom to communicate had to be aware of other spirits potentially interfering.[81]  Paul experienced pesky spirits himself, e.g., Acts 16:16-18.  Whereas he gives no clear instructions for unmasking a deceitful spirit, he encourages guarded communication with spirits (1 Cor 12:10, 1 Thess 5:19-22).

III. The Problem of Discerning Speech Automatisms: When False Prophecy looks like True Prophecy in the Post-NT Era    

This section explores early Christian automatisms beyond the NT in Didache 11, Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 11, and Montanism.      

A. Didache 11:7,8,9,12—Spirits and Prophets in the early Christian Gathering

The Didache is a late first-century or early second-century church manual.  Didache 11 discusses visitations by itinerant prophets to Christian households.  The prepositional phrase en pneumati occurs in Didache 11:7,9,12, just as it does in Mark 1:23, 5:2, 1 Cor 12:3, and 14:2,16.  Didache 11:7 states that whereas “every prophet speaks with a spirit” (panta prophētēn lalounta en pneumati), not every prophet speaks by means of a truth-bearing spirit.  Cyril C. Richardson observed the usage of en pneumati by reading lalounta en pneumati in Didache 11 to mean “literally ‘speaking in a spirit,’ i.e., speaking while possessed by a divine or demonic spirit.”[82]  So, how was one to tell the difference between divine en pneumati and demonic en pneumatiDidache 11:9,12 says that two requests spoken en pneumati reveal a false prophet: 1) a prophet “orders a meal with a spirit” (horizōn trapezan en pneumati, 11:9), and 2) a prophet “says with a spirit, ‘Give me money’” (eipē en pneumati dos moi arguria, 11:12).  These two utterances are signs of a deviation from “the ways of the Lord” (tous tropous kuriou, 11:8): Just as the Lord, as an itinerant, did not ask for money or a meal, so too itinerant prophets do not channel spirits who ask for such things.     

Didache 11.7 seems to contradict prescriptions we find in the NT for adjudicating spirits through a prophet: “And every prophet speaking with a spirit, you should not test or evaluate” (kai panta prophētēn lalounta en pneumati, ou peirasete. oude diakrineite).  The real issue here, however, is found a few lines later, Didache 11.11, where prophets who meet the standards for truth have already been “proven to be genuine” (dedokimasmenon alēthinons) and are “not to be judged by you” (ou krithēsetai eph’ humōn), for judgment lies with God (meta theou).[83]  The prophet in 11.7, then, is one who has already been evaluated as a true prophet and so bears responsibility only to God.[84]

Didache 11:9,12 clearly show that not all prophets who voluntarily allow a spirit to speak through them are acceptable, the upshot of which meant that false prophecy could appear as true prophecy—every prophet speaks en pneumati, “with a spirit” (Didache 11:7)—and this is where trouble lies: “The charge that false prophets were mediums through which evil spirits spoke accounted for the fact that both true and false prophets claimed inspiration for their utterances.”[85]  A false prophet may go unrecognized for some time, and so early Christian households would have practiced great caution during visitations by itinerant prophets.[86]  Once communication with spirits had actually been initiated through a prophet, only then could the discernment process begin.  The Shepherd of Hermas illustrates this problem in even more descriptive terms.

B. The Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 11: How to recognize the false prophet in the sunagōgēs

The Shepherd of Hermas is one of the most enigmatic texts to come out of the post-Apostolic period, structured with 5 visions, 12 mandates, and 10 parables.  Mandate 11 reveals that God’s spirits and the Devil’s spirits manifest speech automatisms through prophets during the sunagōgēs: “When the prophet speaks it is either the Spirit of God which speaks through him or an earthly spirit.”[87]  This Mandate is “the longest discussion in all of early Christian literature, prior to the middle of the second century, of the problem of true and false prophets.”[88]

Mandate 11 discerns two types of spirits.  The spirit of the true prophet is “divine,” “given from God,” “from above,” and “has power.”  The spirit of the false prophet “comes from the Devil,” is “earthly,” and “has no power.”[89]  At first blush, one may wonder how such contrasts between spirits could ever become entangled in ambiguity.  And yet, despite their clear moral differences, these spirits manifest identically through a prophet.  Both true and false prophet are “filled” (plēroō) with a spirit (11.3,9),[90] “have” (echein) a spirit (11.2,9) that speaks truth (11.3,5), are “borne along [to speak] by a spirit” (11.16, pneumatophoros), and are possessed by a spirit that “speaks from itself” (aph’ heautou) (11.5,12).  Reiling agrees that “the divine Spirit and the earthly spirit cannot be distinguished by the form of their speaking . . . in so far as both use understandable speech.”[91]  In early Christian prophecy “the problem of authentication [of spirits] did exist” because both true and false prophets are “inspired and commissioned.”[92]

The difficulty of authenticating automatisms is rooted in the ambiguity created by the presence of the false prophet.  The false prophet, initially, may appear as a potentially true prophet when he comes to an assembly full of righteous men (11.12, 14).  In Mandate 11.3, a spirit from the devil (diabolos plēroi auton tō autou pneumati) impersonates a divine spirit by “speaking some true words” (rhēmata alēthē lalei) “to see if he will be able to break down any of the righteous.”  For this reason “prophets cannot [always] be distinguished on the basis of what they proclaim.”[93]  Those who are swayed by “such spirits” (toioutois pneumasin) are dipsuchoi, “indecisive,” in their discernment. Only when intercession is made to God, something that these dipsuchoi do not do because they “practice divination like the pagans” (manteuontai ōs kai ta ethnē), is the false prophet unmasked and the spirit found to be “the earthly spirit” who flees from the scene (11.14).  Which spirit speaks, and how can one tell?

Mandate 11 begins with a general standard for discriminating spirit communication through prophets: God’s spirits (pan pneuma apo theou dothen, “every spirit given from God”) “are not to be consulted” (ouk eperōtatia) (11.5) “according to the desires of the people” (kata tas epithumias tōn anthrōpōn) (11.6) but according to what God desires (hoti anōthen estin) (11.5).  God’s spirits stand aloof from answering questions that are “earthly and fickle” (epigeion esti kai elaphron), e.g., “what will happen to me?” (ti ara estai autois) (11.2), a question answered only by the “false prophet, not having the power of a divine spirit in himself” (11.2).[94]

The righteous assembly communicates with God’s spirits when intercession is made to God alone.  Such intercession suggests a regular and known procedure that helps secure the likelihood of the manifestation of a divine spirit from God in the congregation: “So, then, when the man who has the divine spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men who have faith in a divine spirit, and intercession is made to God by the assembly of those men, then the angel of the prophetic spirit which is assigned to him fills the man, and being filled with the holy spirit the man speaks to the multitude, just as the Lord wills” (11.9).  The inspired man echōn to pneuma to theion “has the divine spirit,” an early-Christian idiom for spirit possession, namely echein pneuma, “to have a spirit,” and here depicts automatism.[95]  The inspired man also speaks [en] tō pneumati tō hagiō, “[with] the holy spirit,” the instrumental dative that we have seen elsewhere in 1 Cor 12:3, 14:15,16, and Didache 11 for holy-spirit automatisms: “and once he is filled, that one speaks in [‘with’] the holy spirit to the congregation” (kai plēstheis ho anthrōpos ekeinos tō pneumati tō hagiō lalei eis to plēthos).[96]  The curious phrase “the angel of the prophetic spirit” is as an appositional genitive: “the angel who is the prophetic spirit,” for both “the holy spirit” (tō pneumati tō hagiō) and “the angel” (ho aggelos) are subjects of the verb “fills” (plēroō).  The pneumatological variety in Mandate 11.9—holy spirit, angel, divine spirit, and prophetic spirit—all point to the same agent: a spirit from God (11.5).

In Mandate 11.12 prophesying is a speech act performed by a spirit: “Can a divine spirit receive money and still prophesy?  It is impossible for a prophet of God to do this, but the spirit of such prophets who do so is earthly.”  The confluence of a divine spirit and a prophet in the act of prophesying clearly expresses the performance of speech automatisms: I “see” the prophet speaking; I “hear” a spirit speaking.  If spirits receive remuneration for their lectures through prophets, then they are not from God, “but the spirit of such prophets who do so is earthly” (11.12).[97]

Implicit automatisms are suggested in 11.14 where a divine spirit exposes an earthly spirit.  Recall 11.9 where “the man who has a divine spirit” comes as an automatist who speaks to the righteous assembly as a result of intercessions made to God.  So, too, here in 11.14 we can imagine a congregation, similar to what Paul describes in 1 Cor 14:26,[98] in which a divine spirit, through spontaneous instrumental agency, reveals the false prophet that has “come to an assembly of righteous men who have a divine spirit.”[99]    

Mandate 11 not only shows the existence of automatisms in early Christian prophecy prior to Montanism, but also that ambiguous automatism was manifestly real.  After 2 Cor 14:11, Mandate 11.3 is the clearest warning of impersonation by a spirit through a false prophet.  The false prophet is characterized ambiguously as ho dokōn pneuma echein, “one who seems to have a [divine] spirit” (11.12).  This may express either the false prophet’s misplaced confidence in his own automatisms or his cunning.[100]  Although there are signs to determine the nature of the spirit, e.g., by examining the life of the prophet and monetary compensation for prophecy (11.4,7,8,12,13),[101] debates could have easily arisen as to whose automatisms originated in a genuinely divine spirit.  Such controversies are just below the surface in Mandate 11 (e.g., some OT prophets received monetary compensation!), but they bubble up and froth over in sources on Montanism as they occur in Eusebius and Epiphanius.       

C. Montanism: Problems with Discerning Ecstatic Automatism

In sources on Montanism, prophecy is described as “ecstasy,” and discussing ecstasy is a part of the process of discerning true and false prophecy.  The ambiguity of spirit identity persists in Montanism, but discerning spirits is not so much a matter of determining what a spirit says.  Anti-Montanists decided that spirit identity can be clarified by types of ecstasies: the ecstasy of automatism is the exclusive sign that the spirit is demonic.  Montanists, of course, disagreed, and this was a source of conflict between the two camps. 

1. Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History anti-Montanist sources

Eusebius’s sources in the Ecclesiastical History (ca. 324/25) assert that “a prophet must not speak in ecstasy” (mē dein prophētēn en ekstasei lalein) and a “false prophet [speaks] in ecstasy (all’ ho ge pseudoprophētēs en parekstasei).”[102] Montanus’s passive prophetic state was an “involuntary madness” (akouoion manian) that included “possession” (enthousian) and “filled” (plērōsai) with a “bastard spirit” (nothou pneumatos); no OT or NT prophet was “inspired” (pneumatophorēthenta) in this way, and so Montanists are not successors of the true prophetic gift.[103]  In support of this position, Eusebius notes the failed proof that Montanist prophecy was a continuation of the early Christian prophetic activity of Agabus, Judas (Acts 11:27-28), Silas (Acts 15:32), the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9), and post-apostolic prophets Ammia and Quadratus.[104]  This catalogue of prophets bears witness “to a detailed prophetic succession list that was being adduced among Asian Christians in the 190s to establish where – that is, with whom – the true church was to be found.”[105]  The debate over automatism as legitimate prophecy is a part of the issue of prophetic succession.[106]  Montanists claimed that they did belong to this authoritative succession.[107]  If Montanists’s lineage with NT prophets is authentic, “then ecstatic possession must represent normative ancient practice,”[108] but if not, then automatism was diabolical.  Opponents opted for the latter since Maximilla’s inspired prognostications went unfulfilled and, most importantly, no new Montanist prophets appeared after Maximilla’s death, proof that Montanists were not in a succession of NT prophets: “the apostle grants that the prophetic gift shall be in all the church until the final coming, but this they [Montanists] could not show, seeing that it is already the fourteenth year from the death of Maximilla.”[109]     

Much of the conflict caused by speaking in ecstasy originated in the way in which the two sides were arguing about it.  Anti-Montanists identified spirits in automatism as solely demonic.  Montanus was “possessed by a devil” (energoumenō kai daimonōnti) and “subordinated by a spirit of error” (en planēs pneumati huparchonti).  Montanists claimed that holy spirits may also produce automatisms: “the spirit gave blessings” (makarizontos tou pneumatos) through Montanus and behaved “as though elevated by a holy spirit and a prophetic gift” (hos hagiō pneumati kai prophētikō charismati epairomenoi).[110]  Opponents fired back: “the spirit in Maximilla” (to en tē Maximillē pneuma) is a “false spirit” (pseudes pneuma).[111]  This back and forth is exhibited in the spirit’s complaint through Maximilla: “I am driven away like a wolf from the sheep. I am not a wolf, I am word, [holy] spirit, and power.”[112]  The oracle shows that Montanists believed in the possibility that one might mistake a good spirit for a bad one; spirit identity could be ambiguous, for a holy or an evil spirit appeared similarly through a prophet.[113]  Anti-Montanists argued that the spirit duped its followers by its blessings and rebuking them (deceptively) to give only the appearance of its heavenly origin, i.e., “that it might seem to be critical” (hina kai elegktikon einai dokē).[114]  Kirsopp Lake once identified the problem of ambiguous spirit identity in Montanism as its greatest source of controversy.[115]  To be sure, ambiguous spirit identity was a reality, but only for Montanists.  Anti-Montanists argued that automatisms were exclusively demonic—only a “false prophet [speaks] in ecstasy”—and so there is no ambiguity.  If anybody discerns holy spirits in automatism then they have been “seduced by a mind-injuring and people-misleading spirit (laoplanon pneuma).”[116]  Epiphanius makes the same point below.

2. Epiphanius’s Panarion anti-Montanist sources

Epiphanius (aka, the anti-Phrygian source, ca. 377/78) discerns true and false prophecy on the basis of what prophets say and the mental state in which they say it.[117] Epiphanius’s discernment of prophecy is guided by two things: 1) prophecy was limited to the past, ending with the apostles and 2) an understanding of the historical authority of a canon of scripture that reveals true prophecy and correct ecstasy for the present generation.[118]  Epiphanius and Eusebius both agree that Montanism lacks prophetic succession with the past because no new prophets arose after Maximilla, and Maximilla’s prognostications went unfulfilled.[119]  While they also agree to reject ecstatic automatism, they diverge on their handling of ecstasy.  Eusebius severs ecstasy from prophecy and suggests that true prophets of the past did not experience it.  Whereas Eusebius does not discuss an authentic ecstasy alternative to Montanus false ecstasy, Epiphanius makes a case for ecstasy in prophecy, viewed in the proper way: “The prophets fell into ecstasies, but not into ecstasies of [the] reasoning faculties” (gegonasi de en ekstasei hoi prophētai, ouk en ekstasei logismōn).[120]  Here, Epiphanius is thinking of the ekstasis of Peter and Paul in the Acts in contrast to the ekstasis of Montanus.[121]  Authentic ecstasy is a prophet’s stupefaction from profound awe and amazement while prophesying what has been revealed in visions from God (ekstasis di’ huperbolēn thaumatos, “ecstasy through extreme amazement”).[122]  Although unusually transfixed, prophets such as Isaiah and Ezekiel maintain full possession of their mental faculties and free will while prophesying.[123]  Ecstasy of the Montanist type suspends the mind (ekstasis phrenōn, “ecstasy of mind”), rendering the prophet unconscious on analogy with madness; such an ecstasy has no precedence in scripture.[124]  In protest, Montanists appealed to scriptural precedence for their ecstasy, namely Gen 2:21 (LXX), Adam’s “unconsciousness of sleep” (ekstasin tou hupnou), and while Epiphanius conceded to that point, he insisted that no biblical prophet experienced unconscious ecstasy like Montanus, “an abeyance of the senses and wits” (ekstasei phrenōn kai dianoēmatōn).[125]

How one discerns the unsoundness of this ecstasy and the stability of that ecstasy “is difficult to define.”[126] Epiphanius explains the unsoundness of Montanus’s ecstasy by appealing to the content of his oracles as odd, ambiguous, and inconsistent with scripture,[127] for example: “Lo, the man is like a lyre and I [the spirit] fly over him like a pick, the man is asleep [in a trance] while I am awake.”[128]  Epiphanius writes that these are “the words of an ecstatic” (ekstatikou rhēmata), “not of a rational person” (ouchi parakolouthountos) i.e., of an automatist whose senses have been driven out by a spirit that now controls the speech organs, not of a sane visionary.[129]  These words explain automatic speech in the form of a trope; it sounds nothing like scripture but rather invokes “ecstasy of the reasoning faculties” (ekstasis logismōn) and “ecstasy of mind” (ekstasis phrenōn) that are antithetical to biblical and Christian prophets.[130] Thus, we might have expected this trope to provide ample opportunity for Epiphanius to wax polemic against Montanist ecstasy in derogatory terms of ecstatic madness and frenzy as we find in Origen, Lactantius, and Eusebius.[131]  But he does not do this. Instead, he identifies the spirit in Montanists as deceitful and their ecstasy as “folly.”[132]  For Epiphanius’s purposes, the trope serves not as an example for incorrect ecstasy (which it is) but rather for the incorrect words of a true prophet,[133] the “madness” of which is that they are passed off as equal in importance to scripture.[134]

Epiphanius warns that automatisms may appear divine.  The spirit sounds like a holy spirit when it says through Maximilla, “Do not listen to me, but listen to Christ.”[135]  Whereas this utterance “seems” (edoxe) to glorify Christ, in reality, it is a lying spirit simply stating the truth, not unlike unclean spirits forced to admit during exorcism who their true Lord really is.[136]  Epiphanius identifies Maximilla’s automatism—he calls it anagkazomenē elegen, “speaking under compulsion”—with the spirit possessing a slave girl in Acts 16:16 whom Paul exorcises.[137]  No holy spirit drives out the mind of a prophet and speaks through him or her as an automatist: “each legitimate prophet’s actions and speech are not compulsory.”[138]  Some may have believed that a holy spirit was in Montanus,[139] but for Epiphanius, there is nothing ambiguous about speech automatisms, for all automatisms originate in a false spirit.

3. The Reliability of Anti-Montanist Statements about Ecstasy    

Discerning the manner of true prophecy by no means produced consensus among Christians.  The Montanist debate arose within a culture of spiritual ambiguities and diverse ecstasies that captivated (and bewildered) the ancient world.  As opposition to Montanism grew stronger, Catholic bishops’ discernment of automatism became a matter of diagnosing demoniacs.  The two catholic bishops, Zoticus of Cumane and Julian of Apamea, who “tested and conversed with the spirit as it spoke” through Maximilla appear initially to be carrying out discernment reminiscent of 1 John 4:1.[140]  Might the spirit have passed the test?  A verdict of “true prophecy” by the bishops would have normalized automatism.  Anti-Montanist statements, however, anathematized it as an example for how not to prophesy in church, and so the bishops were anticipating an exorcism rather than a discernment à la 1 John 4:1-6 and Hermas, Mandate 11.[141]  From the Montanist side, the bishops’ behavior was none other than a misreading of spirit identity. Maximilla’s supporters, apparently aware of their motives, stopped Zoticus and Julian from performing an exorcism on her.[142]  This scene clearly shows the controversy that ambiguous automatisms were causing Christian communities at that time, as Fox once put it: “Five generations, at most, after ‘Pentecost,’ Christian leaders were exorcising fellow Christians, mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit.”[143] 

As shown in this paper, automatisms were typically not classed as demonic or mental derangement among early Christians but rather discerned as true or false, and so anti-Montanist statements about speaking in ecstasy are not (historically) reliable.  Arguments for Montanism’s lack of NT prophetic lineage do not create a clear case that automatism itself lacked precedence in early Christian cultures.[144]  Both Montanus and his opponents insisted on NT prophetic succession; the debate was over whether speaking in ecstasy was a part of it.[145]  Early Christian texts—canonical, non-canonical, and apologetic—demonstrate the existence of automatism as true prophecy in early Christian cultures pre-dating Montanism, i.e., speaking in ecstasy had provenance in early Christianity even if the word “ecstasy” itself is not always present in the texts.  The backlash against speaking in ecstasy, however, was so strong in the late second century that Montanist prophets were susceptible to charges of demonic possession.  Such backlash occurred, in part, because of what Montanus allegedly said while in ecstasy, the spirit’s “blasphemous” utterances through Montanus that alarmed Catholics against Montanists.[146]  Uttering blasphemy in ecstasy may have called into question the propriety of automatism itself which eventually led to the claim that “the false prophet speaks in ecstasy.”[147]

Epiphanius’s taxonomy for ecstasy—ecstasy of amazement (vision) and ecstasy of mind (possession)—mistakes the examination of a mental state for discerning the nature of a spirit.  Types of ecstasy are not indicators for true and false prophecy.[148]  Epiphanius’s preference for vision ecstasy as authentically biblical does not make a clean break from the “other” ecstasy of possession.  He fails to mention that visions also occurred among pagans and Montanists and provides no criteria for discerning true and false visions even though false visions abounded in biblical and Christian cultures;[149] instead, he asserts automatisms are false and visions are true on the basis of the type of ecstasy that accompanied each, a rational ecstasy for visions and an irrational ecstasy for possession, a critique of prophecy that seems oversimplified.[150]

In contrast to fourth-century critics of automatism, the expectation among the earliest Christians was that the identity of the prophet be replaced with the consciousness and identity of a possessing spirit.  Early Christians were warned to expect ambiguous prophecy and therefore to maintain a discerning posture.  The nature of the spirit’s words (1 Cor 12:3, 1 John 4:1-6, 1 Pt 1:12)—sans the later Epiphanian criteria for such words that required a sense of history, church, and canon of scripture unavailable to early Christians—and the spirit’s intelligibility (1 Cor 14:16) were primary points of evaluation, not ecstatic states.[151] “Montanus was neither novel nor blasphemous when he claimed that the divine spoke through him.”[152]  A diachronic reading of early Christian texts reveals a shift in the ethics of discerning prophetic agency, from “do not believe every spirit” of the first- and second-century Christians to “do not believe any automatism” of the later Catholic church.    

IV. Conclusion

Early Christians faced two formidable realities that complicated discerning automatisms: 1) true and false spirits manifested identical symptoms in a prophet, and 2) deceptive spirits were believed, at times, to behave and speak like true ones.  As Christian communities grew more diverse and widespread throughout the ancient Mediterranean basin, these phenomena created controversy, confusion, competition, and, apparently, dwindled as a clerical hierarchy gradually began to mature with an authoritative voice against automatisms.  Revelations from the spirit world through entranced prophets became more suspect among a coterie of Christians who feared that automatism originated in a world of demonic intrigues meant only to entrap, confuse, and create dissent among Christians.  Discerning the ethics of prophetic agency in early Christian cultures stood on the shifting sands of competing views on the nature of true and false prophecy and prophetic succession.

The earliest Christians discerned spirit utterances through prophets as true or false, and this understanding continued through at least the second century, maybe longer.  Montanus’s excommunication in the 170s, however, had a grave impact on the reception of automatism in subsequent decades.  Fourth-century Christian chroniclers such as Eusebius and heresiologists such as Epiphanius reminisced on the church’s rejection of automatism and deferred to the church’s verdict with polemical jabs that mistook speaking in ecstasy as a sign of mental aberration and activity foreign to early Christian prophecy.  Anti-Montanist’s preoccupation with “ecstasy” as a mechanism for discernment, however, was the real “new thing” in Christian prophecy at that time, and not so much the automatism of “the New Prophets” as some Montanist critics made out.  Opponents of automatic speech were most likely unfamiliar with an earlier belief that deceptive spirits appeared in phenomena in which holy spirits were expected to appear also.  Catholic Christians unwittingly eliminated the good (holy spirit automatisms) while denouncing the bad (evil spirit automatisms) for reasons motivated more by what the church had become—an organized Catholic church with a burgeoning canon of sacred Christian scripture whose prophetic lineage was clear and intact—than by knowledge of what the church had been—prophets whose automatisms were the expected norm and manner of prophesying, subject to discernment as either true or false within local social groups.


[1] So William Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy and Polluted Sacraments: Ecclesiastical and Imperial Reactions to Montanism (Leiden: Brill, 2007): “The early church had been quite used to hearing prophets speak ecstatically ‘in the Spirit.’  Passivity on the part of a prophet resulting in oracular utterance was not unusual” (p. 93).    

[2] See Ps.-Justin, Hortatory to the Greeks 8, Athenagoras, A Plea for Christians 7, 9, Theophilus of Antioch, Autolycus, 2.9, Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 2.4, idem, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1, Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist 2, Odes of Solomon 6.1-2.  Cf. Plutarch, Obsolescence of Oracles, 414E, 418D, 431B, 436F, 437D, and Philostratus, Imagines, 1.7.20.    

[3] Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 51.  Luck adopts the terms automatism and automatic speech from Eric R. Dodds’ watershed classic, “Supernormal Phenomena in Classical Antiquity,” in The Ancient Concept of Progress (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973), 156-210, here 195.    

[4] See P. Lejay, “Un oracle montaniste: Le plectra, la langue et l’Esprit,” Bulletin d’ancienne littérature et d’archéologie chretienne 2 (1912): 43-45. 

[5] Luck (Arcana Mundi) notes, “The word ekstasis—‘stepping out of one’s self’—is best understood today as ‘trance,’ though in antiquity it could mean a form of ‘possession’” (p. 229).  Athenagoras (Plea, 9) uses the term “ecstasy” in his musical trope for automatism. 

[6] See Epiphanius, Panarion, 48.3.11-4.3 (hereafter without ‘48’).

[7] Alistair Stewart-Sykes, “The Original Condemnation of Asian Montanism,” JEH 50 (1999): 1-22, here 7 (emphasis and brackets mine).       

[8] See Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) who notes similarly: “While Justin and Athenagoras had allowed that the prophets of old had spoken in ecstasy, anti-Prophecy writers seem not to have agreed.  It was clear wits, said Epiphanius, and not derangement, which characterized the true prophet (Pan. Xlviii. 7,8)” (p. 88, emphasis hers). 

[9] See Hermann Gunkel, The Influence of the Holy Spirit (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), “As does the Spirit, so do the demons have the locus of their activity in the person, through whom, just as the Spirit, they can appear from without” (p. 50), E. H. Zaugg, A Genetic Study of the Spirit Phenomena in the New Testament (Menasha, WI: George Banta, 1917): “[T]he matter of deciding whether a man was possessed by an evil or good spirit was not an easy task, for the outward manifestations of their operations were quite alike” (p. 63), Percy G. S. Hopwood, The Religious Experience of the Primitive Church (New York: Scribner’s, 1937): “[R]esemblances between the two orders of ‘spirit’ experience are accounted for by the psychology of a religious experience which viewed both Spirit and demon possession as an invasion of a supernatural, overpowering energy into human personality” (p. 64), and James D. G. Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit: Pneumatology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998): By “abandoning the dimension of the demonic we may find that we have abandoned also the dimension of the Spirit” (p. 68).   

[10] Cf. Philo, Heir of Divine Things, 266, and Lucian of Samosata, Lover of Lies 16.

[11] Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 11.3, “[B]ut he [the false prophet] also speaks some true words, for the Devil fills him with his spirit;” Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 6.8, “Scripture says that ‘the devil is transformed into an angel of light.’  When about to do what?  Plainly, when about to prophesy;”  idem, Stromata 1.17, “But among the lies, the false prophets also told some true things;” idem, Homilies 17.14, “It is possible that he be an evil demon or a deceptive spirit pretending in his speeches to be what he is not;” Tertullian, Apology 47, “[T]he spirits of error . . . by them, certain fables have been introduced, that, by their resemblance to the truth might impair its credibility;” Cyprian, Treatise 6.7, “[T]hese spirits . . . are always mixing up falsehood with truth.”

[12] “Those concerned with the discernment of the spirits recognized that evil, or Satan, did not come in a clearly recognizable fashion.  On the contrary, demons came under the disguise of goodness” (Susan E. Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? The Search for Certainty in the Early Modern Era [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], 262).

[13] 2 Cor 11:4 might be alluding to such a situation.

[14] Jannes Reiling, Hermas and Christian Prophecy: A Study of the Eleventh Mandate (Leiden: Brill, 1973), 72 (emphasis mine).

[15] Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 11.7.

[16] See Christine Trevett, “Montanism,” in Philip F. Esler, ed., The Early Christian World (2 vols.; London: Routledge, 2000), 2.929-951. For sources on Montanism see Kirsopp Lake, trans., Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History (LCL; 2 vols.; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), 1.471-499, Karl Holl, Epiphanius II: Panarion haer. 34-64 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1980), 219-241, Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Books II and III; De Fide (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 6-21, and Pierre Champagne de Labriolle, ed., Les Sources de l’Histoire du Montanisme: textes grecs, latins, syriaques (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1913).  

[17] So Stewart-Sykes, “Original Condemnation”: “The roots of Asian Christian prophecy lie in the tradition of the Fourth Gospel” (p. 4).

[18] “Montanism arose from a context of Asian Christian prophecy” (ibid., 10).

[19] See Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.7, 5.17.2.

[20] Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy, 123.

[21] Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy, 110.  Progressive revelation (Trevett, Montanism, 135-141) and the cessation of prophecy with the apostolic era (Laura Nasrallah, An Ecstasy of Folly: Prophecy and Authority in Early Christianity [HTS 52; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003], 174) were overlapping problems.

[22] See Kendra Eshleman, The Social World of Intellectuals in the Roman Empire: Sophists, Philosophers, and Christians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 235.

[23] So Trevett, Montanism, 33.

[24] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.17.4.

[25] See Trevett, Montanism, 67, Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.18.3, Tertullian, On Monogamy, 3.8 and On the Veiling of Virgins, 1.2-4.

[26] See Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.18-22, 5.17.3,4, 5.18.2-4, 5.18.11.

[27] Tabbernee (Fake Prophecy, 122-123, 421-422) convincingly argues that Montanism is not a mixture of Phrygian paganism and Christianity.  So, too, Trevett, “Montanism”: “[H]ad pagan influence been thoroughgoing it would surely have been condemned explicitly at an early stage” (p. 946). 

[28] Fox, Pagans and Christians, 408.

[29] See Tertullian, On the Soul, 45.3, “This power we call ecstasy, in which the sensuous soul stands out of itself, in a way which even resembles madness.”

[30] Trevett, Montanism: “Condemnation and defence of ecstasy loomed large in the propaganda” (p. 87).

[31] Fox, Pagans and Christians, 407.

[32] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.18.2.

[33] See S. A. Mousalimas, “‘Ecstasy’ in Epiphanius of Constantia (Salamis) and Didymus of Alexandria,” StudPatr 25 (1993): 434-437.

[34] Paul’s vision ecstasy in 2 Cor 12:1-4 does not inhibit his memory of it fourteen years later.

[35] Epiphanius consistently contrasts conscious biblical seers (Panarion, 3.3-6, 7.4,5, 10.1,2) with Montanus as an unconscious automatist (Panarion, 4.1, 5.8).

[36] See Tertullian, De anima 9 (visions), and Epiphanius, Panarion, 4.1 (automatisms).

[37] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 4.27.1.

[38] Antti Marjanen, “Montanism: Egalitarian Ecstatic ‘New Prophecy,’” in idem, ed., A Companion to Second-Century Christian “Heretics” (VCSup 76; Leiden: Brill, 2005), 185-212, here 193.

[39] Tertullian, Adversus Praxaes 1.

[40] See Trevett, Montanism, 58-60.

[41] Ibid., 55-57, and Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.19.1-4.

[42] See Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian and Cyprian (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1992).  Curiously, Tertullian does not write about speaking in ecstasy, only vision ecstasy.  See Robeck, Prophecy in Carthage, 104-106, Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy, 133-141, and Tertullian, On the Soul, 9.4, “ecstasy in the spirit” (per ecstasin in spiritu) is a visionary experience.  Cf. Revelation 1:10, egenomēn en pneumati, “I went into spirit.” 

[43] Tertullian, On Modesty, 21.17.  So Eshleman, Social World, 251-252.

[44] See Frederick E. Vokes, “The Opposition to Montanism from Church and State in the Christian Empire,” StudPatr 4 (1961): 518-528, James L. Ash, “The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church,” Theological Studies 37(1976): 227-252, and William H. C. Frend, “Montanism: A Movement of Prophecy and Regional Identity in the Early Church,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 70 (1988): 25-34.

[45] See Trevett, Montanism: “Not all Patristic writers damned ecstasy, [so] quite probably the ecstatic prophetic state was unfamiliar to those who wrote against [it]” (p. 89), Stewart-Sykes (“Original Condemnation”) who notes, “It is quite possible that the anti-Montanists had no first-hand experience of the prophecy of Apollo and were dependent on second-hand reports for their information, being misled in the same way as modern scholars” (p. 13), and Tabbernee (Fake Prophecy, 61) who distinguishes second-hand knowledge of literary opponents, e.g., Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius, and first-hand knowledge of face-to-face contacts with Montanists, e.g., Tertullian.

[46] So Marjanen, “Montanism,” 185 (brackets mine), and Trevett, Montanism: “Christian prophecy of all kinds was in decline and probably not practiced in many congregations” (p. 89). 

[47] See Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Letters 16.8, Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.14.1, and Epiphanius, Panarion, 11.9,10.     

[48] See Trevett, Montanism, 88-89. David E. Aune (Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983]) notes similarly: “The ritual possession characteristic of some of the mystery cults [i.e., Bacchism and Maenadism] was not the same phenomenon as divine possession enabling individuals to utter divine oracles, though the two were frequently confused in antiquity” (p. 21, brackets and emphasis mine).  

[49] So Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity: “All the major features of early Montanism, including the behavior associated with possession trance, are derived from early Christianity” (p. 313), and Stewart-Sykes, “prophecy in a possession trance was a recognized phenomenon within Asian Christianity” (“Original Condemnation,” 15).

[50] See Nasrallah, Ecstasy of Folly, 190-191.

[51] Marjanen (“Montanism”) similarly observes: “In the third century the understanding of Montanism was thus transformed from a renewal movement of the Christian church to a heresy” (p. 193), and Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy: “Eusebius, in his Historia ecclesiastica, accepted and popularized the view that Montanism was a demon-inspired pseudo-prophecy” (p. 91).

[52] Origen, On First Principles, 3.3.4. 

[53] Origen, On First Principles, 3.3.4. 

[54] Origen, Against Celsus, 7.3. For Origen’s knowledge of Montanism, see Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy, 58-61.   

[55] Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (New York: Knopf), 407.

[56] See Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.8,9, and Epiphanius, Panarion, 1.7, 11.6, 12.6,11,12.

[57] So Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.17, 5.19.3, and Epiphanius, Panarion, 3.8, 5.8, 7.10, 12.6,7.  

[58] See Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.19.2, “the blessed Sotas in Anchialus wished to drive the devil out of (ekbalein) Priscilla.”

[59] Acts 19:13 (demon), 1 Cor 12:3 (holy spirit), Philo, Heir, 266 (divine spirit), Josephus, Jewish Wars, 7.6.3§11 (deceased man).

[60] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.17.  See nn. 10, 12.

[61] See John R. Levison, The Spirit in First Century Judaism (Leiden: Brill, 1997), “The work of the spirit in prophetic inspiration . . . produces loss of consciousness . . . and the inability to recollect the prophetic experience” (p. 223).  See Philo, Special Laws, 4.49, Life of Moses 1.274, 277-279, 283, Heir, 265, 266, Ps.-Philo, Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 28.6, 10a, Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 4.6.5 §118, 119, 121, Ps.-Justin, Hortatory to the Greeks, 37.2,3, and n. 2 above.

[62] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.17.1, 5.18.1, Epiphanius, Panarion, 4.1, 5.8.

[63] The term ekstasis was used by Philo (Heir 249, 266) in the way that Plato used mania for prophecy (Phaedrus, 244A-245B).

[64] Nasrallah, Ecstasy of Folly, 180 (brackets mine).

[65] See Plato, Ion 534B, on the effects of prophetic mania: “the mind is no longer in him” (ho nous mēketi en autō enē).

[66] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.17.2, and Epiphanius, Panarion, 5.8.  Holl, Epiphanius, 227.

[67] See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Bread Down of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), who observed: “[T]he divine message was coming directly from the prophet’s vocal apparatus without any cognition on ‘his’ part during the speech or memory of it after.  And if we call this a loss of consciousness, [then] such a statement is problematic” (p. 339).

[68] Similarly, Origen (On First Principles, 3.3.4-5) cannot understand how a good spirit could be party to suspending the mental faculties of a human being and, in this manner, affect people in the same way evil spirits affect demoniacs.   

[69] See Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.14, where a spirit of deceit (apatēs pneumati) is present in the trance state (parekstēnai) of Theodotus who allegedly dies because of it.  

[70] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.8,9.  Stewart-Sykes (“Original Condemnation”) notes similarly: “It is their allegedly mantic delivery which lead to […] charges” against Montanus and his two prophetesses (p. 8).  See n. 31 above. 

[71] 1 Corinthians 14, sunerchēsthe, “you gather together,” Didache 11, sunachthēsesthe, “gather together,” and Hermas, Mandate 11, sunagōgēs, “assembly.”

[72] Whereas most English versions read “spiritual gifts” or “manifestations of the Spirit,” E. Earl Ellis (“‘Spiritual Gifts’ in the Pauline Community,” NTS 20 [1973-1974]: 128-144) comes closest to the context and terminology—pneumatōn, “spirits”—when he writes that in both 14:12 and 14:32 “a plurality of good spirits must be inferred” (p. 134, emphasis his).

[73] R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002),   “The relation of the spirit to its human ‘host’ by speaking of the latter as being en the spirit (here and 5:2) . . . The exorcism passages all speak of the demon as an active personality, distinct from the ‘host,’ and controlling the behavior of the latter” (p. 103).

[74] Maximillian Zerwick, Biblical Greek (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1994), §116, and Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (Word 33A; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) who renders Mark’s en pneumati akathartō as “with an unclean spirit” (p. 226), following Hebrew be + a noun.

[75] So, too, Hermas, Mandate 11, the false prophet who speaks “from himself” (aph’ heautou) actually means that the spirit in him speaks from itself.  See Reiling, Hermas, 90.

[76] Jean Héring (The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians [London: Epworth, 1962; repr. 1973]) reflects this commonly held view: “According to the Apostle, it is better to speak ‘tō noi’, knowing what one is saying, rather than in ecstasy” (p. 150), and Terrance Callan (“Prophecy and Ecstasy in Greco-Roman Religion and in 1 Corinthians,” NovTest 27 [1985]: 125-140) likewise wrote, “[P]rophecy . . . involves speaking both with the spirit and with the mind (nous) (v 15, 19).  Thus for Paul prophecy . . . does involve active participation of the prophet’s mind” (p. 137).

[77] So Maximillian Zerwick, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1996), 526, who renders tō noi here as “intelligently” to mean “I will pray intelligibly.”

[78] See Hermas, Similitude 9.13.5,7: “these spirits . . . become one spirit, one body” (ta pneumata tauta . . . esontai eis hen pneuma, hen sōma), and “having received these spirits, . . . they had one spirit and . . . the same mind” (labontes oun ta pneumata tauta, . . . en autōn hen pneuma kai . . . ta auta ephronoun), in Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 493.   

[79] As suggested in the Constitutions of the Apostles 8.1.2, “The Devil and demons prophesy many things about Him; and yet for all that, there is not a spark of piety in them.”

[80] Stevan Davies, Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity (Dublin: Bardic Press, 2014), 65 (emphasis mine).  

[81] See 1 Cor 12:10 in the New English Bible (1961): “the ability to distinguish true spirits from false.”

[82] Cyril C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers (New York: Collier Books, 1970), 176 n. 64. 

[83] See Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998) who states that Didache 11.7 forbids testing someone “after the completion of the testing” has already occurred (p. 178).

[84] See Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003): “When they prayed or spoke in Spirit, the prophets’ evident charisma would not be ‘put on trial or judged’ (11:7, 11)” (p. 72).

[85] So Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity, 229.

[86] See Valeriy A. Alikin, The Earliest History of the Christian Gathering: Origin, Development and Content of the Christian Gathering in the First to Third Centuries (SVC 102; Leiden: Brill, 2010), “In a number of cases, then, Christian communities may have tested and discussed critically the messages delivered in their meetings to assess whether they came from God or not” (p. 193).

[87] Reiling, Hermas, 101-102.  Here, “the Spirit of God” refers to “any spirit given from God” (11.5), akin to 1 John 4:2.

[88] Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity, 226.

[89] Reiling, Hermas, 43.

[90] See Carolyn Osiek, A Commentary on the Shepherd of Hermas (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999) who observes that the wordplay on being filled “is consonant with the spatial language used elsewhere about spirit possession” (p. 142), and Reiling, Hermas, 86: “the prophetic spirit who fills the true prophet . . . unmistakably resembles the daimōn paredros through whom Marcus [the false prophet] was said to prophesy” in Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.13.

[91] Reiling, Hermas, 120.

[92] Ibid., 14, 64.

[93] Ibid., 70 (brackets mine).

[94] Such mundane questions were asked of the Delphic Oracle, many of which are catalogued in Joseph Fontenrose, The Delphic Oracle: Its Responses and Operations (Berkeley: University of California, 1978).  “Confronted with a world full of oracles and diviners of all sorts, the Christians had to admit that even the devil and the demons have some knowledge of what is going to happen” (Reiling, Hermas, 69).

[95] See Matt 11:18, Luke 4:33, 7:33, and 8:27, echein daimonion, “to have a demon,” which is often translated as “to be possessed by a demon,” and Acts 16:16 where the possessed slave girl “has a spirit of python” (echousan pneuma puthōna).

[96] So Bart D. Ehrman, ed. and trans., The Apostolic Fathers (vol. 2; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 289 (brackets mine).

[97] So, too, Didache 11:12 and Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.18.4. Compare Mandate 11.12 “the spirit of such prophets” (tōn toioutōn prophētōn . . . to pneuma) with 1 Cor 14:32, “spirits of the prophets” (pneumata prophētōn).

[98] So Jonathan E. Soyars, The Shepherd of Hermas and the Pauline Legacy (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 134-137.

[99] Reiling (Hermas) notes similarly: “[T]he diakrisis pneumatōn which we find in the 11th Mandate is performed by the Spirit itself [i.e., the divine spirits] through the gathered congregation” (p. 16, brackets mine).

[100] So ibid., p. 51 n. 1.

[101] Seen elsewhere for discerning true prophecy in Paul and the Didache.  So Soyars, Hermas and the Pauline Legacy, p. 136 n. 150.

[102] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 5.17.2.    

[103] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.7,8, 5.17.2,3, 5.18.3.           

[104] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.17.3,4.

[105] Eshleman, Social World, 239.

[106] Ibid., 237.

[107] See Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.17.4 and Eshleman, Social World, 238.  

[108] Eshlman, Social World, 239.

[109] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.17.4, and Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy, 139-140.  Contra Tertullian, De Anima 9 and Against Marcion 4 where claims are made to continued Montanist prophetism well into the third century.

[110] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.8,9.

[111] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.16,17.

[112] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.17.  This is an obvious allusion to Matt 7:15, 21-23.

[113] See n. 9 above.

[114] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.9.

[115] See Lake, Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History, 1.477 n. 2.

[116] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.8

[117] Epiphanius, Panarion, 3.3,6, 4.6,7. Williams, Panarion, 8-10.

[118] Epiphanius, Panarion, 1.5, 3.1,3.  See Nasrallah, Ecstasy of Folly, 174, 188, 195.    

[119] Epiphanius, Panarion, 2.1-9.

[120] Epiphanius, Panarion, 7.3.  Holl, Epiphanius, 228.

[121] See Acts 10:10, 11:5, 22:17.

[122] Epiphanius, Panarion, 4.6,7. Holl, Epiphanius, 226.  For ecstasy as “amazement,” “astonishment,” “awe,” see Mk 5:42, Lk 5:26, Acts 3:10.  The verb form existēmi occurs seventeen times in the NT, fifteen of which mean “amazed” or “astonished.”

[123] Epiphanius, Panarion, 2.5, 3.3-10, 7.10, 10.1.  

[124] Epiphanius, Panarion, 4.6.  Holl, Epiphanius, 226.

[125] Epiphanius, Panarion, 4.6, 6.4.  Holl, Epiphanius, 226, 227. Tabbernee (Fake Prophecy) notes: “The Anti-Phrygian denied that the ‘ecstasy of sleep’ sent upon Adam was a valid argument supporting extraordinary ecstatic prophecy.  Adam’s was an anesthetic ecstasy, not an ecstasy of derangement” (p. 99).

[126] So Nasrallah, Ecstasy of Folly, 191.

[127] Epiphanius, Panarion, 3.11, 10.3, 11.2,8.

[128] Epiphanius, Panarion, 4.1. Williams, Panarion, 10 (brackets mine).      

[129] Epiphanius, Panarion, 4.3. Holl, Epiphanius, 225.

[130] See Plutarch, Obsolescence of Oracles, 414E, 418D, 437D.   

[131] See Origen, Against Celsus, 7.3, Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 1.4.2-3, Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.7,8,9.

[132] The spirit “indwelling in him” (en autō enoikēsai, Panarion, 11.6; Holl, Epiphanius, 234), “the spirit speaking in her” (to pneuma to laloun en autē, Panarion, 12.9; Holl, Epiphanius, 236), and Montanus’s “ecstasy of mind” (ekstasin phrenōn, Pararion, 4.6; Holl, Epiphanius, 226) which is an “ecstasy of folly” (en ekstasei gegonen aphrosunēs, Panarion, 5.8; Holl, Epiphanius, 227) are marks of a false prophet. 

[133] “Aspersions are cast upon the vocabulary [of the oracle] itself” (Nasrallah, Ecstasy of Folly, 192); Montanist oracles do not “stack up to the catalog of prophets and apostles of a former time” (ibid., 195). 

[134] So Epiphanius, Panarion, 2.2, 3.1-3, 4.2,3, 10.3.

[135] Epiphanius, Panarion, 12.3.

[136] Epiphanius, Panarion, 12.6. Recall Hermas, Mandate 11.12 for a prophet who “seems” (ho dokōn) to have a divine spirit and Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.9 for a spirit that “seems” (dokē) to behave like a good one.

[137] Epiphanius, Panarion, 12.7. Holl, Epiphanius, 236. 

[138] Nasrallah, Ecstasy of Folly, 179.

[139] Epiphanius, Panarion, 12.11,12.

[140] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.17, 5.18.13.

[141] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.7.  Tabbernee (Fake Prophecy) identifies the bishops’ testing as an “attempted exorcism” (pp. 8-9).

[142] Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.17.

[143] Fox, Pagans and Christians, 408.

[144] Fox (Pagans and Christians, 405) warns against accepting the anti-Montanist standards on ecstasy as orthodox for the earliest Christian communities.

[145] So Eshleman, Social World, 239.

[146] See Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.16.9, and Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy, 110, 120, 123, 141, 345, 380, 408.

[147] Tabbernee made a similar insight: “As the Anonymous complains about the manner of their prophesying (5.16.7), there may be an underlying, implicit (although not explicitly stated) connection between prophesying in a ‘trance state’ and the ‘blasphemy’ produced by the ‘spirit’ under whose spell the ecstatic prophets had fallen” (personal email correspondence, March 30, 2009). 

[148] Historically, a holy spirit or an evil spirit may speak through a person in an ecstasy.  See Ps.-Philo, Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 28.6 and Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 1.17.

[149] For warnings against false visions, see Isa 28:7, Jer 14:14, 23:16, Lam 2:14, Ezek 13:6,9,16; 22:28, Zech 10:2, 13:4.  On the possibility of demonic visions in Christian circles, see Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, 46.  See Cyprian, Epistles 11.3, 66.10 for discerning true visions.

[150] See Martti Nissinen, Ancient Prophecy: Near Eastern, Greek, and Biblical Perspectives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018) who says: “Attempts to make a distinction between the ‘sober’ ecstasy of the biblical prophets and the more frantic ecstasy elsewhere are arbitrary” (p. 184).

[151] See Davies (Spirit Possession) observes: “There exist scholarly polemics against the ‘excesses of the Corinthian ecstatics’ based on 1 Corinthians.  But everything the Corinthian Christians do in the spirit Paul does too.  Paul is not opposed to ‘ecstatics’ per se; he is interested only in the regulation of spirit-inspired behavior during community gatherings” (p. 82 n. 11).   

[152] So Tabbernee, Fake Prophecy, 93.